Non-Dalit poor too must get quota: Dr Siddalingaiah, Dalit Poet

When he portrays pain and harsh social reality through anecdotes and humour, one certainly feels the pain.

Perhaps it is difficult to express pain through humour. And if you are a Dalit, it is almost impossible to do it. But, Dr Siddalingaiah, poet, thinker and currently Director, Dr BR Ambedkar Study and Research Centre at Bangalore University, knows how to do this.

When he portrays pain and harsh social reality through anecdotes and humour, one certainly feels the pain. As head of the Institute, he is engaged in a lot of activity even getting non-Dalit scholars to address students on Dr Ambedkar.

A former disciple of Communist veteran E.M.S. Namboodiripad, who was later associated with former CM Ramakrishna Hegde, he spoke about Dalits on college campuses and outside in the context of the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad. Here are excerpts from the interview.

What is the plight of Dalits in Karnataka?

Though I am an Ambedkarite, I did not become a Dalit castiest because I was groomed in Communism. There is a major trend among Dalits these days. Just like RSS, we have seen fundamentalists among Dalits too.

Their agenda is to hate others. They do not understand that there are economically weaker people in other communities too. Economic disparity is a major issue in society. A person drawing a salary of Rs 2 lakh has a neighbour who gets Rs 4,000- Rs 5,000 per month.

According to a study, if in a society, the disparity hovers around 1:10, it is natural and acceptable. In this case, the disparity is in the range of 1:480, 1:500 or 1:1000. This is unacceptable. It may lead to a bloodbath.

Can you be more specific in the context of Rohith Vemula’s suicide?

In the wake of the Hyderabad development, I feel Dalits and non-Dalits can come together at one point. There is one section among non-Dalits who are exploited.

Non-Dalits see élites among Dalits who may be around five per cent and presume the SCs have come of age and do not need help anymore. The fact is 95 per cent of SCs have not got benefits.

Non-Dalits think Dalits are getting scholarships and other benefits from the taxes they pay. Unfortunately, funds released by the governments are going into the hands of middlemen. It is not reaching the people in remote areas.

Compared to the Seventies and Eighties which witnessed active Dalit movements in Karnataka, do you see any change in Dalit consciousness and their condition?

Dalits are extremely conscious of their plight compared to the Seventies. But there is a problem with Dalit consciousness. I feel it is not positive or intended to change the entire society. Dalits should be conscious of their goal: creating a casteless and classless society.

To realise the dreams of Ambedkar, Gandhiji, Jyotiba Phule you have to do one thing: Dalits have genuine sympathisers in other castes. Take them along and move forward.

There was a time when many upper caste people would dedicate themselves to the Dalit cause. Aren’t there any more leaders of this kind?

Very few. Gandhiji’s influence was very strong then, so was Ambedkar’s fight. Naturally, many people from the upper castes became Ambedkar supporters. But I do not find people with such spirit now.

Many Dalits who became educated, have become self-centred and selfish. The other reason: Many educated Dalits live hiding their caste in cities. Nearly 80 per cent, I guess, live like this. If they reveal their real identity, they will not get houses on rent.

There was a time when Dalits sleeping in parks (who have no permanent residence) were called and given jobs. There wasn’t much unemployment then. Earlier, non-Dalits would never take their economic backwardness seriously. Economic backwardness was taken in a spiritual way.

Even the poor could live a dignified life, perhaps because of the influence of Bhakti movement. But things have changed now. We are in a market economy where disparity has deepened so, no one comes forward to fight for this cause.

Moving on, there is a new trend emerging. If a Dalit MLA is caught taking bribe, he defends his act saying, ‘You are targeting me because I am a Dalit.’ Do you think growing corrupt practices defeat the Dalit cause?

I do not think corruption will defeat the Dalit cause. Dalits in government offices may indulge in corruption. But they are still afraid of being caught because majority of Dalit officers have no godfathers.

The problem is misuse of the Atrocity Act. In case, a Dalit officer is found drunk during office hours and is pulled up by his boss, the subordinate will file an atrocity case and ensure his boss goes behind bars. This is worrisome.

How safe are Dalit children on University campuses in Karnataka?

Compared to other states, Karnataka is better. We give lot of benefits. Minor skirmishes happen on campuses because they are backed by some leaders.

There is another issue, discrimination among Dalits. Touchables who are popularly called ‘Rights’ do not even have marital relations with ‘Lefts’ who are untouchables.

This was started 20 years back by politicians. Holeya and Madigas who are not acceptable come under ‘Left’. We have 101 communities in the SC bloc. The idea of creating a SC bloc means untouchables should be there.

But for political reasons, many touchable castes were included in the SC bloc. Now politicians are trying to bring all the communities together for electoral benefits.

Parties do not give tickets to the ‘Left’ candidate because if an untouchable is elected, he may come to a voter’s house and many don't want to face such a situation. So, what these parties cleverly do is give tickets to only ‘touchable’ SC candidates. Now the trend is changing.

There are two challenges: Dalit empowerment and ensuring genuine harmony among Dalits. What is the way forward?

I think Dalits have to fight for the cause of non-Dalit poor too. I feel, non-Dalit poor should also get reservation. A new type of solidarity should happen, social untouchability should encompass economic untouchability too.

There is a large section of non-Dalits who are sympathetic towards non-Dalits. They should be brought in.

At a time when violent behaviour is preferred by sections in the upper castes and Dalits as well, do you think your advice will be heeded?

We have to make an honest effort. When leaders have credibility, I think, people will heed them. People like me and Devanuru Mahadev should try to train youngsters on these lines.

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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